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Thursday 24th May 2012 | 09:33
The Cabinet Secretary has defended his decision to recommend Jeremy Hunt’s conduct during the BSkyB bid be investigated by the Leveson Inquiry.
Giving evidence to the Public Administration Select Committee, Sir Jeremy Heywood also warned that the Culture Secretary could yet be investigated by the independent adviser on ministerial interests.
“I genuinely felt that Lord Justice Leveson would be the right, most rigorous and searching investigation that could be done, and that if we tried to suggest that an alternative approach was set up…I think we’d have been criticised very strongly.
“In the light of that investigation, if something comes up on the day of evidence etc – that warrants further investigation or bears his adherence to the ministerial code then we may have to take further action at that point.”
He refuted suggestions by committee chair Bernard Jenkin that the move was “buying time” for the Prime Minister. “We just took the view that it was better to leave it with the Leveson Inquiry.”
Mr Jenkin said he had the “greatest sympathy” for Mr Hunt’s special adviser Adam Smith, who “I rather suspect thought he was doing what was expected of him”.
He went on to raise the “unfortunate” failure to ‘deep vet’ the Prime Minister’s former director of communications Andy Coulson.
Sir Jeremy said: “I didn’t see myself why all members of the communications staff at number 10 had access to top, top secret information.”
But he said it had become clear over time that Mr Coulson would need access to sensitive material.
Claims coalition government has led to paralysis at the top of government were firmly refuted.
“I don’t recognise the word paralysis at all in the current context. I think the Government’s achieved a huge amount.”
Sir Jeremy defended the recent budget as an example oft eh Government’s boldness: “The budget, which was much criticised, is actually a very bold budget. It didn’t need to be, but there was much churn and change.”
Mr Jenkin asked if communication between secretaries of state and the Prime Minister was “not working” because they had to go through Downing Street’s policy unit, which is largely staffed by civil servants.
Sir Jeremy denied the prevalence of civil servants over special advisers in the unit was a problem, pointing out that there were other channels to the Prime Minister. He also denied suggestions from several committee members that there were too few special advisers generally.He said the decision by David Cameron and Nick Clegg to have a single policy unit to provide advice to both sides of the Coalition meant it was “quite difficult to see” how it could be staffed by special advisers: “You are driven toward having more technocratic people.”
Labour’s Kelvin Hopkins asked why the Cabinet Office permanent secretary, Ian Watmore, had recently left his job after such a relatively short time in the post. Robert Halfon remembered Mr Watmore as “full of enthusiasm and passion for his job” and said it was clear something had occurred to prompt his departure.
Sir Jeremy strongly denied Mr Watmore’s departure was down to a conflict with Steve Hilton.
“The way Steve operates is to challenge; he’s a very challenging person. I don’t believe that Steve Hilton, who in any event has now left, is the reason Ian Watmore’s left the Cabinet Office.”
Mr Jenkin said he remained “unconvinced”.
Sir Jeremy was less impressed by briefings, reportedly from Mr Hilton, suggesting the Civil Service could be cut by up to 90%: He said he was "angry" about the effect on civil service morale, and that his anger was shared by the Prime Minister.
"I think they’re very conscious of that, and they’re just as frustrated and angry about it as myself and Sir Bob Kerslake, and that is put in the newspapers apparently as a sort of authorised briefing, which it certainly wasn’t, and it doesn’t remotely reflect the Prime Minister or the Government’s view of the civil service. And they totally share that anger, and I think that’s enough to be said about it. We’re already spending too much time on something that has no authority whatsoever.
"I don’t know that it’s definitely come from Steve Hilton, but wherever it’s come from it doesn’t reflect the policy of the Government, and I think that’s the only thing to be said about it frankly.
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